Raccoon Ridge Hike
Leader: Mike Anderson
Leader: Mike Anderson
It was a cold Saturday morning and I was busy hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail right on Raccoon Ridge with some awesome NJ young birders led by my good friend Mike Anderson. Even though we weren’t walking the whole trail from Maine to Georgia, it felt like forever to get to our destination: the Raccoon Ridge hawk watch. Still as we hopped from rock to rock we had time to get to know each other and share birding stories. There were a few birds that we saw on the way up, such as a few Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Eastern Bluebirds. One of the coolest birds seen as we walked had to be a close fly-by Common Raven. Even after wearily hiking for about an hour, the trees were so short on the ridge that we can see all the amazing views every second, which sure entertained us the whole way.
At last we reached the high and mighty hawk watch on the hill. Being an open space made it easier for the freezing cold winds of the ridge to cut through our winter coats, giving the new members a taste of winter coastline birding that they may do later this winter. Luckily it didn’t take long for me to spot a decent bird. At first I thought it was an accipiter such as a coopers or sharpy, but it turned out to be an unexpected rarity: a Northern Harrier. Now it’s not the species that was rare, but the gender. Males, often called “gray ghosts” by birders, are quite rare and this was one of them flying high in the sky.
After the Harrier left, there was a constant stream of Red-tailed Hawks and Bald Eagles that came by. Mike told us it was caused by winds that go right along the ridge allowing these raptors to catch an easy ride. This also made it incredibly cold for us animals with no fur or feathers. So when we had lunch, all of us decided to go behind some large glacial rocks within hollering distance. After five minutes or so, I noticed my friend Andrew Marden who was came a bit late running up the trail and signaling us to come quick. We followed him to a steep slope in the forest and discovered a beautiful male Ring-necked Pheasant giving harsh clucks as it ran away.
With a new person added to our party, we returned to the hawk watch to continue birding. Together through a scope we were able to identify a duck on a distant pond as a Bufflehead and get amazing views of more eagles. We even got to see an eagle being dive-bombed by a Sharp-shinned Hawk. Suddenly one of the hawk watchers notices a weird eagle flying low. Everyone got on it before it sped beyond our view and gave the conclusion that it was a Golden Eagle… except for me. Luckily I’ve seen these birds this year in Arizona and the year before at this hawk watch, so I was happy for the younger birders that never saw it before.
After being beaten by winds for about another half-hour, we realized it was time to go. So we trekked down the mountain once again. This time we got to meet an especially brave White-tailed Deer that allowed for great photos and found an abandoned Red-eyed Vireo nest that sat on some thin, low branches. As we reached the trailhead, we said goodbye to our friends, completing an awesome birding adventure!